Suzuki Swift Sport
I am not a racing driver, and many of you reading this will not be either. However, five minutes with the new Swift Sport makes you think that it might be possible.
I feel as though I am driving inside a wasp. It is compact, nippy and – for a front-wheel drive hatchback – there is very little understeer that my (highly untrained) driving can unlock. Tyre squeal when making a brisk entry into a bend is slightly misleading, as not once did I feel the front end drift wide.
From the outside, it is almost Staffordshire Bull Terrier-esque – diminutive, yet stocky. In the same vain, it actually looks quite pretty – my better half described it as ‘cute’. However, much like the havoc that ensues when the postman comes to the door in the morning, this hatchback has quite a bark and bite.
It is equipped with a six-speed manual and a punchy 140PS 1.4-litre four cylinder turbo engine, providing surprising grunt. Compared to the previous model, there is a 44% (yes, you heard right!) increase in torque, with 230nm available from 2,500rpm. In plain English, this means that changing gear to go fast is not always necessary, as the car has the ability to accelerate up a steep gradient even in fifth gear. The higher end of the rev range is also rewarding, but I found myself camped mainly in the low- to mid-range. The exhaust note is also pleasing. It is by no means loud, but there is a gratifying burble at low revs and slight crackles on the overrun.
At first glance, the Swift Sport looks like a three door, of which I’m not a huge fan. Our model is in fact a five door, with those clever ‘hidden’ handles disguised within black plastic panels above the rear window. The boot is large enough to house a weekly food shop, and there are a few cubby holes within the cabin, which I mainly used just to hold the keyfob. Headroom is best not to speak about in the rear, but it’s fine upfront. The front seats are also supportive, although those cursed with a slightly wider back will find that you lie on top of the seat, rather than sit in it.
The steering is refreshingly weighty compared to most super light electronic racks, which means that some tighter manoeuvres require a bit more effort. Parking is still a doddle – it’s a tiny car, and there’s even a reversing camera. Interestingly, the camera is situated underneath the bumper to provide a cat’s eye view. The system can take a second to warm up at first start; I often found that the coloured parking guidelines would suddenly appear about three seconds after I would have liked them.
The gearbox is smooth yet deliberate – I appreciate that this is incredibly vague, but hear me out. You’re never hunting for a gear, and there are defined notches in each movement. It’s another small element that adds to what could be described as the ‘real’ driving experience. Gushing aside, there are some bad bits.
The car is fitted with some entry-level active safety systems, such as lane departure prevention (a warning system) and forward-collision avoidance (another warning system). The former is not engaging enough to make any difference to drifting out of lane. The latter goes too far in the opposite direction; remember the first time a family member sat as a passenger after having passed your driving test? That.
The system is constantly on edge, beeping and shrieking as you pass nearby lampposts a few kilometres away. I live at the end of a terraced street and have a routine three-point turn. On approaching the brick wall at little more than 10mph, the system can only assume that I have chosen to defraud my insurer or make a minor incident claim. Driving past parked cars had the same effect on several occasions. This is all fine at slow speeds, and is little more than a nuisance. On a fast A-road, however, it can be quite disconcerting to have a bright orange warning sign pop up on the dash, complete with audible shriek. Queue Chandler to Ross during the ‘sofa up the stairs’ episode of Friends: “Shut up, shut up, shut up!” (If you’re not familiar with that reference, consider the Father Ted episode where they’re trapped in the caves with Graham Norton, and Tony loses it.)
Ultimately, you need to ask what is more annoying: being beeped at, or crashing? If these warning systems prevent someone from rear-ending a stationary car because they are more closely engaged with other activities than driving, then it’s worth the hassle.
What surprised me most with the Swift Sport is the fuel economy. It arrived at my front door with 53.1mpg, and a week later left with 49.4mpg. I’d driven it every day, and none of those days could accurately be described as leisurely. A half tank of fuel at around 1.30/litre cost just under £18. To me, that is an absolute steal, and rivals the fuel economy of my own diesel hatch. Overall, the most telling takeaway from my week with the Swift Sport is that I simply did not want to give it back.